Now that we’ve finally bridged the solstice and embarked on our journey into summertime, it seems fitting to get re-acquainted with the Summer Triangle. I noticed it last night when my younger brother and I stepped out to watch the space station pass by.
As you might expect for a triangle, three stars join forces to create the huge figure in the eastern sky at nightfall. The brightest and one of the first stars to come out during twilight is Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp. All Lyra’s stars are dim, but Vega more than compensates with a radiance as pure and white as burning magnesium. You can’t miss it about halfway up the eastern sky at nightfall.
To find Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus the Swan or Northern Cross, reach your balled fist to the sky and look ‘two fists’ to the lower left of Vega. Altair in Aquila the Eagle is way down to the lower right. Three-plus fists will get you there. Being first magnitude or brighter, Vega, Deneb and Altair are all easy to see; city and suburban observers should have little difficulty in finding them.
An additional treat awaits the eyes of rural observers or those who make a drive to the country. The Summer Triangle hosts a bright section of the Milky Way, and with moonless skies the entire week ahead, it’s a most impressive sight. This is especially true for those living in mid-northern latitudes. The lower half of the Milky Way in Sagittarius, while equally amazing, never gets high enough above the horizon haze to grab your attention the way the northern half does. Many a night I’ve stood back and watched the Summer Triangle and its strands of starry haze waft overhead accompanied by the gentle clatter of leaves in the breeze. The vastness of it all becomes palpable.